China denies using COVID-19 to expand presence in South China Sea

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“There is nothing to support the claim that China is using COVID-19 to expand its presence in the South China Sea,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, when asked about statements saying China is taking advantage of COVID-19 to increase activities in the South China Sea, during a press conference at the sidelines of the Third Session of the 13th National People’s Congress on May 24.

“On the contrary, China has worked with ASEAN countries in recent months to beat the virus. We have assisted and supported each other, which has helped to strengthen mutual trust,” Wang said.

He added that “ships and planes carrying critical supplies are sailing in and flying over the South China Sea, a body of water that’s witnessing mutual assistance and cooperation between China and ASEAN.”

“In sharp contrast to this, a few non-regional countries are flexing their muscles by sending military aircraft and vessels to the South China Sea. Their ill-intentioned and despicable moves are meant to sow discord between China and ASEAN countries and undermine the hard-won stability in the region,” the Chinese foreign minister said.

United States Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said during a briefing on May 5 that “while the Chinese Communist Party ramps up its — ramps up its disinformation campaign to try to shift blame and burnish its image, we continue to see aggressive behavior by the PLA in the South China Sea, from threatening a Philippine Navy ship to sinking a Vietnamese fishing boat and intimidating other nations from engaging in offshore oil and gas development.”

“We call on the PRC (People’s Republic of China) to remain focused on supporting international efforts to combat the global pandemic, and to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea,” US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement early April.